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Hope for Every Child (PDF 2MB)

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Publish Date: 06 November 2018

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A report examining how we can improve outcomes for all our young people in Northern Ireland.  The report was compiled by Ards & North Down DUP Councillor Peter Martin.

It is clear to me that if we want to address some of the key challenges that face our young people we need to tackle both Adverse Childhood Experiences specifically and also improve our children’s general mental health. As we consider the methodology for achieving this we need to ensure we avoid responding with a ‘quick fix’ approach; in contrast for corrective interventions to work properly they must be delivered over the medium/long term and implemented both strategically and regionally. The mental health of babies, children and adolescents is incredibly important as it establishes a biological and value based map of the individual for the rest of their life. This public health issue is enormous and I have done my best to cover the key areas, especially as regards ACEs, in this report.To illustrate the critical importance of Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHs) the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health stated in their report The State of Child Health (2017)1 that

“50% of adult mental health problems are estimated to start before the age of 14”

I should state at the outset that there is some excellent work already being carried out in this area by individuals and agenciesin Northern Ireland. The Children and Young Peoples Strategic Partnership is providing direction through its ‘Regional ACEs Reference Group’ but the direct funding is reasonably small. In recent years some pioneering work has been done in some of the Health and Social Care Trusts, but it is my opinion that what Northern Ireland really requires is the coordinated and sustained approach of the Scottish Government and Welsh Assembly. I say all this without wishing to be critical of anyone working in this area in Northern Ireland but, it is clear, that to tackle Adverse Childhood Experiences effectively it needs to become a priority of the NI Executive. Funding therefore needs to be identified which can be used to:

• Make Northern Ireland a ‘Trauma Informed Country’
• Better support those children and families who have been or are currently affected by ACEs

The costs of not properly addressing ACEs and children’s mental health are simply staggering. In the last number of years people have started to become more aware of the importance of ‘Early Years Intervention’. I cannot stress enough how critical this period is in a child’s life. I hope I have made clear in the body of this report the positive impact early intervention can make and also the medium / long term budgetary benefits which follow adoption of an effective prevention strategy. Continuous neglect, abuse or family separation can have devastating long term consequences for the child and also for society. If we want to make Northern Ireland a safer place we do not require bigger prisons, instead we need to look at the children in our society and ask how can we better support them? The ‘Golden Fleece’ that we are seeking is a safer, more prosperous Northern Ireland with strong resilient children and families with strong relationships and attachments. That may be a rather idealistic vision but should we meekly accept the status quo? One of the most senior Health Officials in Northern Ireland said very openly to me as we talked about this report in its latter stages of writing,

“If we could deliver this it would simply be a game changer for the children of Northern Ireland”

I have made a series of recommendations for Government Departments and the Northern Ireland Executive (which at the time of writing is not in place). I believe that their adoption could have a significant impact within five to ten years if the impetus is present from both Officials and Politicians. It should also be noted in the shorter term we could will see failing rates of child abuse and neglect; a decrease in domestic violence, alcoholism, drug abuse and mental health issues among parents.

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